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Astroslugs Review (PC)
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Indie games seem to be the current vogue. With the rise of online content such as Xbox Live Arcade and Facebook applications it’s not hard to understand why new developers are dipping their toes in the water. Some indie titles have even been put up against their multi-million dollar contemporaries in recent award shows. And in that respect it’s just as easy to understand why the competition is feral.

Enter Astroslugs. Created by Munich-based developers Bit Barons and released on January 27th 2011 Astroslugs is a puzzle game in its purest incarnation that takes simplicity to an art form. This is a first release for Bit Barons which is evidenced in the titles modest budget, but the main focus of a game such as this is to not only allow the developers to get their name out into the community by having something cheap and simple, but to also instil that age-old philosophy of games being instinctively fun.

It's no 'Halo 3'...but look on the bright side...it's no 'Halo 3'!

Astroslugs does have a story, though. Maybe developers are frightened that people will be put off purchasing their digital offspring unless there is some plot or incentive. This works for just about every current generation game but the prospect of a good old-fashioned puzzler in the vain of something PopCaps-esque doesn’t seem to warrant a story arc.

However, that’s not to say the story is out of place. It ties in nicely with the theme and in some respects gives the impression of some design integrity. And if it does serve as an incentive for people to purchase the game then who am I to argue? (An unemployed alcoholic is the answer to that folks!)

The story goes thusly: Rather incompetent, yet apparently evil, alien slugs make haste to try and leave their home planet in order to conquer the universe (oh, those precocious alien types!). But in order to leave in their ship it must be re-fuelled. You play as a young slug archaeologist set with the task of solving the enigma of the slugballs and to also ponder why there isn’t a Texaco garage anywhere on the planet.

The game is split into different worlds which must be unlocked, each with a certain number of levels. Levels consist of a series of slugballs arranged in a particular pattern on-screen. The object is to then draw the required shapes into the grey slugballs to colour and light them up. Left-clicking and dragging will form the shape. So for example, dragging down four slugballs will make a straight line four slugballs in length and drawing an L-shape will create that particular shape.

The level is complete when all the slugballs are coloured with each shape that needs to be drawn, leaving no grey slugballs in place. Completion of each round counts towards the goal of filling up the ship with fuel.

From a distance you could almost fool your boss into thinking this was a spreadsheet...

It’s quite a challenging little game but without the usual pitfalls of seething frustration that a lot of other puzzlers tend to come with. And I think that’s because of Astroslugs’ innocence factor. Simplicity works best in this instance and it doesn’t seem to boast any hidden agendas or themes. It might not be as slick or as innovative as something like 2D Boy’s 2008 title World of Goo but what it lacks in pretentiousness it more than makes up for in terms of fun and quick entertainment.

And for that reason I feel that the game verges more on – what I like to call – a ‘tea break’ game. The kind of puzzle adventure one can load up and play a few rounds of whilst the (evidently rather slow) kettle boils. It is to quick-gaming that crosswords and Sudoku puzzles are to coffee breaks at work.

This is, unfortunately, where the game falls down slightly. With the budget as minimal as it appears and its design toned down to meet the requirements of a simplistic game it does raise a red flag at all the loading screens that dominate in-between levels. There are no cut scenes and the game runs directly from my HDD and given the low hardware spec that is required it’s hard to envisage what is actually loading during these down times.

Also, if you’re like me (pray that you’re not!) beware of running the game in windowed (rather than full-screen) mode. Clicking off the window to check on background progress (don’t ask, don’t tell) will pause the game automatically for you. This is a neat feature but it’s worth mentioning that it also pauses during the loading screens. Something which says to me that nothing is actually being loaded in the background if it can be paused like that.

That aside, for a meagre price of £8.99 (EUR 9.99 and $13.99), Bit Barons have still got some potential for future products and Astroslugs is something that can easily stack alongside already available titles such as PopCap’s Bookworm or Bejewelled series. Give them a greater budget and some faith and they will scale grand horizons to find their own feet.

Astroslugs is available for download at https://www.astroslugs.com

Find more info about Bit Barons at https://www.bitbarons.com

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Astroslugs Review (PC), 9.3 out of 10 based on 4 ratings
  • https://twitter.com/we_do_games James Joell-Ireland

    Fantastic review. I will definitely be checking this game out for sure. Thanks for the links to the developers also, most people forget to add that.

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